a song of six and pence

Sing a song of sixpence
— of six and pence and pence and six —
sing a song my darling, that will do the trick
sing a song and line your pockets all full of rye
sing a song my darling, hush now, do not cry
fools are the only ones to die

He does not want to go to church on Sunday morning; his mother boxes his ears once and speaks to him sternly, but she takes pity on his pale face and shivering hands, and tucks him in with a kiss to the forehead before she goes. He can’t rest, though; he lies curled on his side and feels oddly restless. It’s like there is something inside of him that’s trying to crawl out, and his skin’s too small for it, his body’s too weak — there should be more of him, he thinks dimly, another-him for he excess to spill into.

When his mother returns home, he hides under his blankets and pretends to be asleep when she checks in on him. She touches his head with one cool hand and says a brief prayer. He feels guilty, because he knows she worries, he knows she cares — with his father two months in the grave and the creditors watching with hungry eyes for the first sign of weakness, he shouldn’t be adding to her burdens, but — ah, he’s sick, he’s tired, and there’s not enough of him for this.

Eventually he stops pretending and does sleep. Someone else’s hand is in his, fitting easily as a missing piece, and the restless twist in his stomach is finally relaxed. Fire blooms red and hot all around, but he’s unafraid because he’s no longer alone, he’s never alone; when he turns he can see a knifesharp grin and a shock of dark hair, and there’s another hand ruffling his hair to a mess. A giggle rises from his throat, sharper and higher than any sound he’s made in his life, heeheehee, and his other laughs too and he thinks it’s a beautiful sound, a perfect sound and

he wakes retching from pain; his head feels like it’s going to split in half. His mother comes running in, and she holds him close even though he’s already fifteen, already supposed to be a man, and he sobs because it hurts, it hurts, and his mother is singing lullabies to him and rocking him and it feels wrong. This is not the person he wants beside him, it’s not right and he reacts against it, shoving his arms out hard to knock the impostor away. She hits the floor with a cry and says his name, and that snaps him back to the waking world.

They stare at each other. Apologies bubble up in his throat and dash themselves to silence against his teeth. His mother picks herself up with dignity. We will talk about this later, she says, and he looks down. He can’t make himself look in her face, because even now, something is wrong about it.

Morning comes; morning goes. They don’t talk. He drifts through the days listlessly; it feels like his apathy could suffocate him. He skips dinner just to avoid his mother’s pinched face and skips straight to dreams. He’s so relieved at the hand in his that he cries again; the other laughs, and roughly dries his face with part of a sleeve. We’ll kill them all, let’s play, the other says, and he finds himself laughing as well, as the world freezes to ice and the only real thing is himself and the other, and their breath turning misty-white in the cold air.

He wakes crying again, but manages to keep it quiet; his mother does not come for him.

Two Sundays later, there is knocking at the door.

He goes to answer it, and the pastor is there, recoiling at the sight of him. He doesn’t know why; red is a good color, isn’t it? Even when it starts to fade to brown, it’s nice. It’s nice, it’s nice, but the pastor is screaming now, pointing and screaming and his voice is sharp and ugly and full of words like monster and abomination and God deliver her poor soul and he won’t. Shut. Up. It’s important that everything is quiet — he’s waiting, he’s trying to be patient; he has to be good, or else his other might not be able to find him. He took the woman’s needle and thread and tried to set an example to her — shh, shh, they must stay very quiet, seal the lips and everything but she still kept screaming and it’s drowning out all other noise. He can’t be found this way, and he’s tired of being alone, he’s so lonely it hurts, and that woman has been quiet for weeks now, so quiet, and that’s been good, that’s been right, but the pastor WON’T SHUT UP–

(sing a song of sixpence, of six and pence and pence and six)

“Shit,” says the other from behind him, and then there is weight on his shoulders and against his back. It feels like something sliding exactly into place; he straightens automatically and leans his own head back. “You really went all out. Wait for me next time, that’s no fucking fair.”

He moves his lips. They hurt a little; they’re stiff and they taste like dust and blood, and he has to remember how to make his voice work. “They were noisy, heee.”

“They’re no good,” his other says confidently. “You knew that already, but it’s true. Fuckers.” The hand in his hair lets go, and fingers wrap with his own, and unlike his dream, this is real. This is true. This is all that matters.

“Let’s go,” he says to himself, and the smile on his face stretches the skin till there is fresh blood on his tongue, but that doesn’t matter: he isn’t alone. He’ll never be alone, forevermore.

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various songlines

Ayakashi/Mononoke

The kitten is a small, shivering thing, so scrawny that its ribs are clearly visible through thin layers of skin and muscle and fur. Rain drums hard against its side, drips off its whiskers. It breathes slowly, pathetically; its eyes are closed. The taste of malice hangs heavily in the air, like miasma. All the blood has long since vanished.

He squats down. The hem of his kimono drags against the wet ground and soaks up water, turns dark with it. As though it senses his presence, one eye rolls open. It’s filmed over in white, but it sees him, and it hates. Deeply and desperately it hates, so that its entire world is encompassed. Given time and momentum, it could become something that should not exist. He can see the potential there, hovering dark and restless.

A growl rises from the kitten’s throat. The sound tapers into a wheezing whine. He puts his hand against the kitten’s side. It hisses again, showing off its teeth. They’re yellow and brittle, just like the bones under his palm. Malice continues to bristle and rise at him; he ignores it. Continue reading

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Quoth the Raven

“Picture your mind as a house with rooms,” Sharon tells him. “There is a part which is reserved solely for the chain, and that alone is where you must confine it. You are the master–” and she lifts her cup, and even that small clattering sound echoes in his skull like a gunshot– “and you must be certain to never let it see your weakness.”

+++

Do be careful, Gilbert,” Break says, as he leaves. The day is overcast, and there are long shadows across his thin face. “It’d be terribly inconvenient to find someone else.”

+++

When he wakes, his brother is by his side.

Gil feels his movement before seeing him: a paler patch of shadow resolves into Vincent’s long pale hair, and the rustles of his long coat bring with it the smell of dry herbs and sharp musks. Gil has learned not to ask: there are certain aspects of his brother’s methods that he knows he’ll remain content with never knowing. Maybe he’s just tired, still disoriented and in pain from the contracting ceremony, but he swears he can hear the clicking sound of clawed feet echoing in Vincent’s soft footsteps, and even through gloves and Gil’s nightshirt, his brother’s fingers are long and cold.

“Welcome home,” says Vincent, and he breathes something into the words that makes Gil’s skin crawl. “Welcome home, my brother–”

But under that, Gil hears: helookstirediwanttotouchhimholdhimkeephimminesotiredbrotheriwant– and he pulls away with a jerk. The second voice falls silent, but Vince’s habitually sleepy-eyed look is replaced with one of genuine surprise.

“Brother?” He reaches out again. “What–”

Gil flinches back. Through eyes half-closed in a cringe, he watches Vincent’s hand hesitate, a hairsbreadth away — his skin tingles from the anticipation of a touch that never quite connects. A whole wealth of emotions flicker through Vincent’s eyes, then are shuttered under a layer of smiling concern.

“Your head must be bothering you,” he says. He rises to his feet. “I’ll see about fetching you water.”

Silent-footed as a cat, he leaves, and he takes with him the pressure sitting heavily there dead-center of Gil’s chest. Gil turns his head to watch his brother go, and only breathes when the door closes quietly. He lifts up his left hand and stares at the palm. The seal itself is a tiny thing — a stretch of darker skin across his palm, shaped vaguely like a bird’s pinion-feather. To the touch it’s ice-cold, enough to numb his fingers a bit.

This is the power that is now his. This is the power that he’s worked nearly ten years to obtain.

This is the power that will save Oz.

Gil closes his eyes and presses his lips to the seal. It makes his lips burn.

+++

“There isn’t much known about Raven,” Sharon says, as she hands him a slim packet. “But he’s old, Gilbert; older than most that we have documented. He’ll trick you if you’re not careful.”

+++

Gil dreams:

There is a heavy black door which swings open to a long flight of stairs that lead down, down, down. It’s pitch-dark, but he finds himself able to pick his footing easily. Down he goes, and somewhere he knows that this isn’t right, this isn’t proper, but it’s suppressed — the panic that should be bubbling up is muted and sunk down low in his chest.

At the bottom of the stairs is another door. He opens this and steps into a parlor. It’s a little smaller than the one his adopted mother entertains guests in, but the decorations are very different: a few decades out of fashion, too heavy with the flares on the draperies and too sharp and angular with the lines to be up to date. There is a table covered with an off-white cloth and set with tea, and there is a man at the window. The muted light through the curtains obscures his face, but his nose is sharp and beaky and his eyes are round and black and reflect nothing.

“Aha,” says the man. “So it is you.”

“You’re,” Gil says, and then stops. There are feathers stuck around the brim of the man’s hat, at crazy angles, like someone had taken their hand to a bird’s wing and run it down the wrong way. The man’s feet taper into three shiny black claws each, splayed wide as though for balance. Gil knows who this is; he’s known for years.

Raven tips his hat. His smile is very white and very sharp in his already-lean face. “Master,” he says mockingly. “Sit. Have some tea. It’s been a long day for you, hasn’t it?”

Gil doesn’t move from where he stands. His hand is so cold it aches, but he flexes his fingers and otherwise ignores it. “What am I doing here?” he asks, and keeps his voice low and even. “What do you want?”

Raven laughs. It’s not a pleasant sound.

“The question is,” he says, “what do you want? Master,” and the last is so mocking that Gil bristles. It’s the tone the Nightlay servants use when addressing him, simpering and sincere only on the surface — as if smiles and flatteries would be enough to hide the contempt that lies just beneath. Don’t forget your roots; don’t assume too much of yourself; you were a servant first, bastard nameless dog to those lily-white Vesalius bastards–

“My,” says Raven, and suddenly he’s there and he isn’t; and then he is again, there in Gil’s face and looming. Up close the craggy lines and angles of his face are quite clear; he’s handsome, in a rough-edged unrefined way. His breath smells like dust and ash and something sickly-sweet. Gil recoils from it. Raven follows. They repeat this awkward dance several times, until Gil’s shoulders hit the wall. Raven is taller than him, leaning down and smiling his sharp white smile.

“Don’t be unkind, Master,” Raven goes on, as if there hadn’t been a long peculiar pause in between. He leans and braces his weight against the wall on one hand, and Gil finds himself bracketed in. “I’m yours, after all. I do what you tell me. That’s what the contract is, isn’t it?” His other hand snakes out, lightning-fast, and Gil makes a startled noise as his wrist is caught and lifted. The black seal on his hand looks all the more stark now, part of his skin and yet separate, all the more obvious for Raven’s proximity. Those round black eyes blink, and then Raven dips his head and bites gently at the heel of Gil’s palm. His teeth are sharp as they look.

“You–!” Gil yanks at his hand, but finds it trapped. “What the hell–”

Raven laughs. He meets Gil’s eyes, unblinking, and traces the bottom of the seal on Gil’s palm with his tongue. His mouth is shockingly warm.

“Do you know why a chain contracts with a human?” he asks.

Gil jerks harder at his hand, breathing hard, and succeeds in nothing but exerting himself.

“When the contract’s time limit ends, the human becomes the chain’s prey.” Raven is still smiling, drawing his tongue up the length of the seal, tracing each feathered line and edge up to the base of his fingers. “But Pandora found a way around that, didn’t they.”

Gil makes an outraged noise. “You’re not suggesting–”

Raven laughs. He bites the tip of Gil’s index finger lightly. “I’m hungry,” he says. “Some chains might satisfied with little bits and pieces, but I …” He shifts, and his knee presses between Gil’s legs in hard deliberate pressure. “I prefer a bit more.”

“Ah–”

“You owe me this much, don’t you think?” Raven purrs. “Master.”

Gil draws in the breath to protest. Raven laughs and lays a finger against his lips.

“I’m using you,” he says soothingly. “Just like you’re using me. Isn’t that what the Hatter said?”

“The Hatter–?” Gil blinks, then freezes. “You mean, Break … ?”

Raven laughs. He lets go of Gil’s wrist and dips his hand down, undoing the fastenings to Gil’s trousers with surprisingly dexterous ease. “He’s not the sort to kiss and tell, the Hatter,” he says. “Perhaps you should ask the contractor. I’m sure that would be quite the face to see.”

“He’d never,” Gil begins, then jerks with a strangled noise as Raven’s hand wraps smoothly around his cock and pulls it free. His head jerks back and hits the wall, and he shoves hard at Raven’s chest. Instead of being rebuffed, though, Raven leans in, and his mouth is hot against Gil’s ear.

“As I said,” Raven purrs, “Hatter’s not the one to ever say.”

Before Gil can gather his scattered wits to protest again, Raven sinks down before him. Gil makes another sharp noise and snaps his hand out, just as he was taught (sharp hard blow, go for the nose, break it properly and you can use the broken pieces to kill a man), and succeeds only in displacing Raven’s hat. Before he can recover, there is wet heat swallowing him down, and all he can do is make embarrassing sharp noises, shaking as Raven pins his hips to the wall.

“No,” he says, or tries to say, or thinks he wants to say; all that comes out is a low rough noise that tapers into panting. Raven’s fingers are long and thin and tipped with sharp nails, five points of pressure on each hip; his mouth is hot and full of sharp teeth. It makes obscene wet sounds as it moves, and Gil tries hard not to listen but — but —

It takes him by surprise: sharp and brief and almost brutal; Gil’s hand flails out blindly and his fingers sink into feathery-fine dark hair. There is a strangled, cut-off name in his throat, one that he never manages to vocalize before he swallows it. Raven swallows everything, and it feels like there are secrets draining out of him as shakes and tries to recover himself. Gil’s knees go weak, then buckle; he slides slowly down the wall and into Raven’s open arms.

“There,” Raven says, and his tone is so smug, so pleased, that Gil’s skin crawls all over again. “It’s a start.”

He looks up, blinking bleary eyes. “A start for–”

Raven kisses him then, hard, biting on his lip and holding it between his pointed teeth for a five-count before letting go.

“A start,” Raven says, and–

Gil wakes.

+++

“To tell the truth, I didn’t really expect you’d be able to obtain Raven,” Break says, and there is light in his white hair, lighting his one red eye. He smiles and it almost looks genuine.

Gil looks at him and wonders about the chain controlled by those long fingers; he wonders about Sharon and her delicate smile as she hands him a cup of tea — he wonders about Vincent and the mouse that nods sleepily over his shoulder whenever it appears.

He wonders, but he never asks. And at night, before he sleeps, he kisses the seal again, like a prayer for the day his sin will be erased.

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With You (My Love, With You)

The ceremony is about as lavish as Gil expected: dozens of fine gentlemen and delicate ladies, all dressed in finer clothing than he could ever hope to own, gathered in rustling silence as Oz Vesalius kneels before his uncle, hand over his heart. Though the storm continues to rage outside, within the hall the lights are warm soft gold, and Young Master Oz looks like a prince from a fairytale, his expression quietly serene as Master Oscar touches the baptismal blade to his shoulders. Gil’s throat hurts a little just to look at him.

Until the day this scarred body and pulse vanish: to continually protect the name and honor of the Vesalius … Continue reading

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and from your lips, the hallelujah

(It rains the day of the lady’s funeral. Even the Duchess comes, a solemn cold figure all in black; her smiles are gone into the earth with her daughter, and she can’t even spare one for the girl who throws a lily into the open grave with shaking hands. Break presses his hand over where his missing eye would be, and tilts his umbrella to cover her instead.)

+++

He fights when people come for him: mindlessly and like an animal, lashing out until people grab his arms and legs and carry him in stretched out and squirming, but unable to do much else. His eye aches until he thinks the pain might swallow him whole, and there’d be nothing left of him — just this shell, this mad creature who could do nothing more than spit into the wind and shriek. There are voices around him that he can’t bother to sort out; they’re all loud and rough and unkind, and he’ll kill them all, he will kill them all as soon as they let go– Continue reading

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Laid The Unsprug Trap With Bait

There was no reason to be worried, Fix tried to console himself. The general nicknamed the Great Dragon was rarely home, right? He was always off conquering this country or laying siege to that town; he probably sent home souvenirs of his conquests all the time. Fix’s unusual appearance wouldn’t cause a stir, either, judging from the plentitude of exotic features and heavy accents among the servants of the main house. With his dusky skin and pale-gold hair, grown out long over the years and finally (his sister had declared, with some snide satisfaction) properly done-up, Fix would fit right in. The pins and barrettes felt strange – though not as strange as the corset – but a careful application of makeup made even his mud-brown eyes look at least a little deeper than normal.

The disguise wasn’t one hundred percent perfect, but it was good enough; no one had batted a lash at him and Lux during the journey to the estate.

“His wife?” The steward, a gray-haired, pinch-faced man, raised an eyebrow and pushed his glasses up his beaky nose. “Is that what you say?” Continue reading

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bury my lovely

“She’s been asking for you,” the Duchess says, and her laughter is clear in her voice even if her mouth is hidden behind her lace fan. Even in her aging face, her eyes are as diamond-bright and hard as they’ve always been. The years have — perhaps — weakened her body, but only an idiot would challenge her directly, especially when she’s in this sort of mood. He presses a hand to his heart and bows from the waist, ignoring how it makes his head hurt: a single stabbing pain right through where his eye should be.

“This entire week,” the Duchess goes on. Her fan flutters. “Nonstop, in fact. ‘When will he be home? Oh, do say he’ll be home soon.’ The servants are growing tired of making excuses for you.” Continue reading

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Assorted Drabbles (from lj)

The cutest thing about humans is how hard they try to ignore their fragility: they struggle to the bitter end, battering their tiny bodies of ash and dust like it could mean something. Sebastian personally finds it charming.

His tiny master is such an example: apparently without fear, he disrobes, head kept high; but there is a tremble in his fingers and wavering in his voice. His skin flinches from the cold of Sebastian’s own. His body is wiser than his mind; it would reject Sebastian, if allowed.

Still, Master Ciel shivers and says more, and a butler must obey. Continue reading

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love is not a battlefield (but it’s still worth the fight)

(“Well,” said the boy — Mikage, was it? — with a wide-eyed smile, at the start of all things. “Everyone says such terrible things about you, but you’re actually pretty cute, huh.”)

+++

Very few girls made it into the Academy, both by design and circumstance. Even ten years after the war with Raggs, parts of the empire were still reeling from the loss of husbands, sons, and brothers — so it became the patriotic duty of the wives, daughters, and sisters to be closeted, cosseted, and bear healthy strong children for the empire. The families who could afford to pay the entrance fees were more likely to keep their girls close, and the poor usually couldn’t afford to spare the labor. Still, every year, a few made it in to register, and afterwards were treated like any other soldier-in-training of the Basburg Empire.

… theoretically, at any rate. Continue reading

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breath, bone, and soul

After, when frantic relief has given away to silence and his skin is almost warm to the touch and slick with sweat, Gwendolyn presses her palm to his chest, fingers spread wide as they can go, and counts the heartbeats against her palm. They come slowly, even now, and the flush is beginning to fade from his skin.

Oswald lets out a slow breath, then covers her hand with his. His fingers are already cold. “I’m all right,” he says. “My wounds are nearly healed.” Continue reading

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the fairytale’s gone into hiding

They land in a desert world that has both of the children bright-eyed and excited; the princess still doesn’t remember much, but her entire body seems to relax into the punishing heat, and there’s a healthy flush to her white cheeks. When Fay himself wilts and retreats to hide inside, she lingers on the veranda of their borrowed rooms and turns her pretty little face to the sun. Wrapped in loose gauzy white, she looks like a creature of air and spirit, so light that she might drift away on the next strong wind. Fay watches her through the windows as dusk falls and he’s able to emerge with the cooling day, watching the clean lines of her shoulders and tries to remember that she’s not real. She’s just as much of a construct as Chii: a copied mind and a copied body, going through the automatic motions of life because she knows no better.

She’s just a copy, but he’s sworn to keep her safe until her creator calls her home. The hot weather makes her eyes sparkle and she has enough of her feathers back to shake off her initial doll-like lethargy; she smiles for all of them and pushes herself hard to stay awake.

Fay watches her spread her arms to the sky like she could embrace the dusk close as a lover, and falls just a little in love. He can’t help it, really: royalty has always been his weakness. Continue reading

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Taming the Wild Teito

The trick to earning a wild animal’s trust is patience, and lots of it. Loud noises and sudden movements will only frighten it off: you have to let it grow accustomed to your presence, bit by bit, and eventually it might allow to let you approach it. Enough time, and it might even deign to let you pet it — but it will never be completely yours. Even if you bring it home and it grows old and fat in your care, there will always be something forever beyond your reach. Continue reading

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For Want Of

Moonlight bleaches Seimei’s skin pale and highlights the all the sharp lines and angles of his narrow face, till it makes the throat ache to see him. This is about the best that Seiryuu can really come up with — he is a warrior, not a scholar, and he has little patience for such things.

And yet, there is Seimei, with his sharp vulpine features and easy laughter, who faced down even Touda without breaking a sweat. Nothing is delicate or fragile about Seimei, even if he is human and so inherently weaker than Seiryuu and the rest of the Shinshou: there a steel in him that not even Touda’s fires can warp or melt. There is Seimei, to whom all the princesses of the royal court watch with covetous eyes — in a change from his childhood (Seimei says, with amusement in his eyes and voice), the rumors of his parentage make him an appealing match for a young woman searching for a husband. All of them disgust Seiryuu: their beauty is watery and weak, and there is no strength in their fluttering white hands. None of them are worthy of the smiles that Seimei favors them with, let alone his attention; if a son is what he wants, then let him take Tenkou to bed, or Kouchin, or even Tenitsu — Suzaku might protest, but Seimei is their masterContinue reading

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Trading Farewells

There is a man who walks by the church every day, precisely at two o’clock in the afternoon. No matter what the weather, he always come by, dressed impeccably all in black: someone’s butler, perhaps, striding off with purpose. He never looks at the church, but he walks like he is deliberately ignoring it.

Behind him, shadows trail long and wide, like the flaring of wings. Continue reading

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The Memory of the Father

He remembers the father.

Like a sore tooth — like an old injury — he remembers, and keeps those old memories close. They’re reminders of the pieces of himself he found unnecessary and excised, and now he can look back on that man and laugh. Once upon a time I was stupid, he says; once upon a time, I was idealistic and full of wide-eyed belief.

Then the world happened. He grew up. Continue reading

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